Last week I wrote about shaking things up a bit—doing whatever we can as artists to shake the foundation and come upon some new territory. As promised, here is a list of things—notes, sayings, and reminders—that hang throughout my studio. There are scribbles on big butcher paper over the windows, some on Post-it notes, some on the legal pads that I live and die by. I have photos and inspiring images hanging around, quotes I love, and some old keepsakes and books from childhood that keep me in my imagination as long as possible—the whole thing is getting into a cocoon in the studio and just dreaming for a while, getting rid of the loud voices that don’t let us hear the whisper of a new idea. It’s hard to nurture your subconscious and creativity if you are stuck in your analytical mind. The goal is to lose yourself and get inside to another world, or as Quincy Jones so beautifully said, to let “God walk through the room.”
I heard that Brian Eno (U2, Bowie, etc.) keeps a set of tarot-like cards in the studio and has the bands pull one out of the deck when it’s time to create some chaos and get everyone out of their own preconceived ideas, out of their ruts. I guess I was pretty much doing the same thing with all these scribbles everywhere, though his way is much cooler. 🙂
HEART, NOT MIND.
If you think too hard, it’s over.
Sometimes you can hear the artist finding the part, and it’s exciting to have that captured. The more I overdub things, the colder they usually get. I heard Clapton wouldn’t record more than three solos—ever. Sessions with a million takes to sort through later always feel like a slog to me. Commit to tape—fewer decisions to make later. Speaking of…
SIMPLICITY IS COMPLEX.
Less is more. Go kill some of the tracks RIGHT NOW. Get rid of the extra words in the lyrics. Go walk and then listen again. Rebuild if you need to. Simplicity is complex. It takes real creativity to get the song out with only a few instruments, and as our producer and beast of a human being Matt Wallace says, “The fewer the instruments, the bigger the mix can be.”
HURLING HORSES OVER THE CLIFF.
I’m an animal rights guy, so this may seem weird, but I read this in my fave rock ’n’ roll bio, Chronicles, by Dylan. He was talking about the future being in urban/hip hop—people working with no fear whatsoever, quickly, in limited gear and going for broke every time.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS.
I talk about this in a lot of posts, but I have this one written in several places in the studio, too. At the little table I write lyrics at, above the monitors, etc. Not every idea is worth chasing down. Don’t waste your time. You know when it’s not working. I stole this from Stephen King, by the way, in his FANTASTIC book On Writing.
IF IT’S TRUE TO YOU, IT’S TRUE.
Basically, if you are writing for the “market,” you are already dead. By the time you chase something, it has moved on anyway. If it moves you, it’s bound to move someone else. Trust your GUT.
CHANGE TEMPO. CHANGE KEY. TRY AN INSTRUMENT YOU CAN’T PLAY.
Essentially, CHANGE IT UP. Be a little reckless. I have a lot of cheap guitars (two were under $50 at pawn shops) hanging on my walls, and several are in different tunings. This is just to keep things fresh. I heard the master Thom Yorke (Radiohead) made the song “Fitter Happier” by putting random advertisements from newspapers in his studio into a 1980s Mattel Speak & Spell toy, one of the first devices where you could have a computer say what you wrote. The brilliant Austin Kleon makes art by blacking out newspapers and seeing what words are left. Try anything and everything to get your mind free. Whatever gets you to a new place.
DELETE IS YOUR FRIEND.
I’m only now getting this through my thick skull, but when I step away and come back and something doesn’t hit hard, I gotta WIPE IT and start over. I mentioned this in my previous post about my favorite painter and close friend Wade Hampton destroying some of his paintings. Sometimes you gotta break the branch to make the tree grow. DO IT. NO FEAR.
This is a reminder that so many times I try to do everything I’m NOT good at to grow or to prove something to my self. Guess who doesn’t care about that? THE LISTENER. They just want something GOOD. Use what you got. I bet it’s more than enough. So often we feel we aren’t enough, and we run from the very things we could give to the world that might spark something in someone else.
This is a term I use for when an arrangement and a mix gets HUGE without being overwhelming—you get chills—you might want to cry or go run around the block. When you hit across this sound, STOP AND PRINT IT. I’m a fan of things that could be in a trailer or film or just take you to another place. I love cinematic songs and music, and this is just a reminder to push and take the mixes over the top.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS, TAKE A BREAK.
Don’t beat yourself up (I’m really bad about this). GO SEE A MOVIE, GO CALL A FRIEND, LISTEN TO A PODCAST, READ READ READ. There is no trophy for forcing a bad idea. I believe it’s good to try to be creative every single day, but if you are really stuck, take a freaking break. Get your mind on something else, and the answer might just pop up.
This might seem nutty, but when I start in the studio early in the day—just coffee, and I don’t eat anything until well after lunch—I usually have a much better session. This isn’t for everyone. It probably comes from me hearing as a child that my hero Prince basically ate bread and water only, but it’s been helpful lately, especially if it’s a day I didn’t work out very hard. Intermittent fasting works pretty well for me, particularly if my wife and I woke up in the middle of the night and binge-watched True Detective season three and ate Totino’s Party Pizzas. Not that EVER happens … ever…
Turn off your phone.
Three chords are more than enough if they are honest and the melody and lyrics work.
Take a shower. Stole this from Aaron Sorkin—it helps reset.
Go bang on the drums. Rhythm always resets me, and drums were my first love and will always be.
Check the hook books. 🙂 I have a file I keep on my hard drive called KINDLING that is scraps of hooks and ideas. It can be helpful. I keep a journal of lines from books I like—possible titles, etc.
That’s what I got for this week. Thanks for joining me. See you next Weds. Can’t wait for your thoughts and comments!
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